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Chris Guillebeau

Chris Guillebeau

Posted: December 28, 2009 12:45 PM

How to Spend $2,000 on Stickers and Get 280,000 Frequent Flyer Miles

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Greetings from vacation-land, where I've just arrived. I'm looking forward to sharing my 2009 Annual Review with you. But first, some big news in the travel hacking world has come up -

Yesterday I spent a little over $2,000 on stickers I don't expect to use. On March 1, 2010, I expect to receive at least 280,000 new Star Alliance Frequent Flyer Miles in one of my mileage accounts as a result of the purchase.

This is a case study in travel hacking, and in this example, something I call mileage arbitrage. Previous case studies included my trip to a hair-loss clinic for a free consultation (result: 20,000 miles) and my purchases of $1 coins from the U.S. Mint with free shipping that I then carried to the bank for deposit (result: 30,000 miles and one sore back).

Unlike those deals, this one is still active--if you're up for it, you can get your own monster set of miles too. You can also spend less than $2,000 (and get fewer miles), or if you're more hardcore than me, you can spend more than $2k and potentially earn up to one million miles or more.

This post details exactly how it works. If you're interested, don't waste time getting started, because it takes a few days to set up and the deal may disappear without notice.

The Short Version

A holiday bonus from U.S. Airways - a bad airline with a good mileage program - offers a huge 250% bonus on miles earned while shopping with its partners. You only earn the bonus after the 5th purchase, but the first four can be made for well under $20 total. Then, you load up on one vendor that offers a generous 40 miles per dollar spent. Combined with the big 250% bonus from the airline, you can effectively buy an unlimited number of miles for just $0.007 - well under one cent per mile.

The vendor to make the one big purchase from is TrackItBack. Read more about the promotion here, and see a lengthy discussion in FlyerTalk here.

The miles can then be used for any Star Alliance flight anywhere in the world -- not just U.S. Airways flights, thank God. Be aware that the bonus miles don't post until March 1, 2010, however, so you'll have to be willing to spend the money now and wait three months for the payoff.

A longer version is below for those who care...

How It Works

First up, you need to be a member of U.S. Airways Dividend Miles program--join for free here. Next, you need to make at least four separate purchases from the links on this promo page for the 250% bonus to kick in. The purchases can be as little as $2, and $5 or $10 gift cards are common. I used the following items for my purchases:

  • $10 Barnes and Noble Gift Certificate
  • $2 Tree Planting from Gaiam
  • $5 Sears Gift Card
  • $5 Borders Gift Certificate
  • $45 in office paper from Office Max

(To be safe, I did five purchases instead of four. I needed office paper anyway, so I bought a case--cheaper alternatives are available if you don't need to stock up on something.)

Next, I recommend waiting a couple of days, and then making the 5th or 6th purchase of TrackitBack stickers. I'm not linking to it here because you need to make sure to use the link from the U.S. Airways page.

That's where the huge bonus will kick in:

*Spend $384 now, get 50,000 miles on March 1
*Spend $769 now, get 100,000 miles on March 1
*Spend $1538 now, get 200,000 miles on March 1

And so on - I went for $2,150 and I expect to receive at least 280,000 miles in return. I thought about going all out for the holy grail of One Million Miles, but couldn't bring myself to pull the trigger - a combination of cash flow issues and fear of devaluation held me back. For me, $2,150 for 280,000 miles was the best fit for my comfort zone.

Again, make sure all your purchases are done through the U.S. Airways links, and complete them shortly after clicking on the links. On March 1, 2010, you should see a monster bonus (effectively 140 miles per dollar spent) flood into your account. And then, of course, you start making travel plans.

Valuation

A conservative valuation of 280,000 miles would be about $5,600. Spend $2,000, get a $5,600 travel credit to use after March 1, 2010--I like it already.

For the kind of flights I'll use them for, however, the valuation will be at least $10,000 or more. In my case I'll be aiming for a South Pacific award via North Asia (ANA or Singapore Airlines over to Japan with a free stopover, then Air New Zealand down to Auckland and beyond) and at least one transatlantic flight from the U.S. to Eastern Europe on Austrian or Swiss Airlines. I've been doing this a while and am pretty good at getting high-value travel awards, so if you're new to the game, you might want to assume a lower valuation.

The most important point is that you'll almost never find the opportunity to effectively purchase an unlimited amount of miles for such a low rate.

What's not to love? Just two things: one, I don't like waiting 90 days for bonus miles to post. Two, U.S. Air is likely to devalue its awards chart at some point. I'm hoping it won't be a huge hit, and I'm hoping they'll give some advance notice so I can book awards at the current rate, but of course this isn't guaranteed.

Time, Money, and Travel Hacking

When it comes to travel hacking, you'll want to make sure that any particular opportunity is worth your time and effort. Look at it for yourself and make your own decision. For me, it's worth it, but I don't expect everyone in our diverse community to rush out and start buying $5 gift cards in advance of a $2,000 purchase of miles.

By the way, I advised Frequent Flyer Master owners of this opportunity yesterday so they can get a head start. I wouldn't be surprised if U.S. Airways restructures the program at some point, so be sure you review the terms and conditions to make sure they haven't changed before you drop a couple thousand dollars on miles.

Important Disclaimer:

Be sure to keep a record of all your purchase confirmations. We're dealing with an airline that is not known for its customer service. You might need to make a couple phone calls in March if the miles don't post right away.

If that happens, the good news is that you won't be the only one calling, and neither will I - it looks like a growing group of travel hackers from various outposts have committed to seeing this through.

Wrap-Up and Farewell...

I know this won't help everyone who reads AONC - plenty of people don't care about miles, or even travel in general - but for those who like to see the world, this can be a big help.

Combined with another strategy I recently used to earn 100,000 additional new miles (I sent the details to the Frequent Flyer Master owners' list on 12-November), my U.S. Airways account is going to be getting close to half a million miles in early 2010, all without ever setting foot on a U.S. Airways plane.

I'll also be cashing them out as soon as possible to account for any devaluation, and also to avoid leaving too many miles with an unprofitable company.

After I wrote about this new opportunity to my customer list, my Inbox of replies indicates that a bunch of people are already plotting to earn several million miles between themselves. If you decide to give it a try, would you please let me know? I'd like to keep a count on the number of miles earned from the AONC community. You can write me here or add a comment in this post.

And of course, if you have questions or general feedback, feel free to post your comments as well. I'm on vacation this week, so posting and responses may be delayed - but I will get to it as soon as I can.

That said, now I'm off to plan my life for next year. Over and out.

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